Everyone is seeking an easy route to business success and the puritans who love to tell their bootstrap-hoisting tales of rags to riches will say that the only route to the summit is old-fashioned graft Jeremy Harbour thinks otherwise.
Everyone is seeking an easy route to business success and the puritans who love to tell their bootstrap-hoisting tales of rags to riches will say that the only route to the summit is old-fashioned graft Jeremy Harbour thinks otherwise, and his Harbour Club has been proving that for more than ten years now…
There are plenty of tales on this site about entrepreneurs starting with “nothing” and through dint of their own hard slog and burning the midnight oil 24/7 for years, becoming that rarest of things - an overnight success.
Often in that back-story a cursory bit of research will turn up that people’s definition of “nothing” is fairly flexible and it was actually a significant venture capital investment or money they already had that helped with their start-up.
Of course, there are plenty of genuine examples where people have gone from nothing to their first million, but they sit alongside lots of mythologising about business heroism, possibly designed to make anyone who hasn’t taken their big pile of nothing and turned it into an IPO, feel a little bit inferior.
Self-confessed ‘deal junkie’ Jeremy Harbour doesn’t have a lot of time for that sort of myth creation and believes success in business doesn’t need to be a marathon - it can be a sprint and he wants to show you how get out of the blocks.
Central to the concept of his Harbour Club is the simple notion that buying companies is a far quicker route to success than having to spend ten years in a shed boxing up products by hand. Far easier to go in at year ten and buy that guy out than start yourself from year zero.
Harbour says he was an entrepreneur from a very young age - starting companies, growing them and then buying and selling them, taking some public. His obsession with deals started 20 years ago.
“I was working 24/7 building a telecoms company in the 1990s and was often the target of other telcos who wanted to buy me,” he explains. “I used these approaches to learn how to approach other companies myself, and I was able to acquire a 13 year-old local competitor with no cash upfront and no bank debt, I grew by a year’s worth of sales in an afternoon and it was a game changer. I realised I did not need to run the marathon, I could just run the last 10 yards and still get the medal! From that moment I was hooked. I actually bought an IT company the same way just two weeks later.”
The Harbour Club is pitched as a fast-paced alternative to the longer process of learning business success through numerous seminars and the advice of countless business gurus and consultants.
“When I was growing up as an entrepreneur I was infuriated by the seminar industry, over promising, under delivering and just trying to sell you more and more programs without getting to the point,” he says.
“I had been badgered or ages by people who wanted me to do consulting work with them, and so decided to create a membership organisation that dealt with both issues.
“Firstly, instead of doing consulting I would teach people everything I have done and the lessons (good and bad) that have come from it. Secondly, I would make it a one off membership fee and provide access to a global community of deal makers, with all the information in one go, respecting people’s time, and no up-sells or other things people have to buy to get going.
“We started in 2009 and we have a global membership, in fact we did an audit of deals done in the community in 2020 (verified by top global Audit firm PKF) and the 34 members we checked did $74m in exits (company sales) there were many more we did not look at, so we are really impacting the lives of entrepreneurs.”
Impressive numbers. It makes it all sound a bit…easy.
“It is not easy, but if you know what you are doing, it can be done. Our members are doing deals every week and I do 10-15 deals a year myself (12 in 2020).”
“I don’t think you can create wealth running businesses, I believe you need capital events, and the easiest way to get there if you have nothing to start with, is to sell a company and you can either spend years building a company to sell (that what I did first time around) or you can simply buy a business and then sell it, and if you know how, that can be done without needing capital, and it can be done with solvent, profitable businesses.”
Another phrase that harbour employs readily is “democratising wealth”. By which he means a method of doing business that encourages global venture capitalists to back smaller concerns.
He does this by grouping small businesses together. He’s got a word for that too.
“Small business is 50 per cent of GDP, it is a huge chunk of the economy and yet global capital does not participate in it at all, they invest in assets that have manageable risk, scale to invest large sums and liquidity (they can buy and sell easily like stocks, bonds, commodities and derivatives), small business does not fit that profile, and so is not an investable asset class.
“We solve those issues for investors by grouping companies together and taking them public (IPO) we call this ‘agglomeration’, the net effect is it creates wealth for entrepreneurs and that goes into their local community as they create an economic wake behind them. They also go on and try and solve bigger problems in their communities. We now plan to do this on a much bigger scale, so far we have put 25 companies together in this method, but we have a big vision.”
The pandemic has shaken up the pieces for business leadership and employees alike which are now open to“opportunity” thanks to losing their jobs. It’s a terrible consequence that won’t work out well for plenty of people, but has forced many to start out on their own.
“People are more open to conversations, it is easier to do business, it has been a big shock to a lot of businesses. There is also a lot of money in circulation looking for a home so a great time to start building those homes.”
The future for Harbour Club is deals, deals and more deals, with quite a few IPOs on the horizon and the growth of its community of members while improving the package that they get.
“All small businesses have an organic growth strategy, sales, marketing etc. But they should also have an acquisition growth strategy. It’s another engine on the plane, and can have an order of magnitude impact on growth.”
This article comes courtesy of Jeremy Harbour and The Harbour Club.